Since Monday, 12 public-health professionals and climate scientists from ten countries have been at Columbia University’s Lamont campus to learn how to use climate information to make better decisions in health-care planning and disease prevention. They’re taking part in the second Summer Institute on Climate Information for Public Health, organized by the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) and the Mailman School of Public Health.
In thinking about climate change, it’s essential for the health community to better understand the role climate plays in determining the fundamentals of health (clean air & water, food, etc.) as well as its role as a driver of some infectious diseases.
“After all, health is fundamental to the way we understand human well-being, and a key indicator of sustainable development,” says Madeleine Thomson, who runs the IRI’s Health and Africa programs. “Here, we like to think of climate as both a challenge and a resource.”
Extreme weather events or prolonged droughts are often associated with negative outcomes, Thomson says, but by understanding climate and its associated impacts and potential predictability, decision makers can start responding proactively to climate challenges. In some situations, they can even get ahead of the game.
“This climate risk management approach is new to the health sector and, therefore, we are particularly excited to have such a talented group of participants and facilitators to explore the most effective ways to use climate information in decision making,” says Thomson.
Facilitators such as Patrick L. Kinney, the director of the new Climate and Health Program at The Mailman School. He and Mailman colleague Kim Knowlton will be lecturing on the health impacts of climate change next week.
The course targets professionals who play a research role in the operational decision making or public health-care planning, evaluation, surveillance or control of climate-sensitive diseases. This year’s participants include heads of disease-surveillance and epidemic preparedness and response teams, forecast and early-warning specialists, climate scientists and biostatisticians. They come from institutions in Africa, Latin America, Europe and North America.
The students face an intense schedule, packed with lectures and exercise sessions meant to introduce them to computational tools that integrate epidemiological data with the wide variety of available climate, population and environmental data.
The Summer Institute runs from June 1 to June 12. For more information, please visit the SI2009 home page.